We’re not so different you and I.
Sure. I have six kids in a blended family. But my day-to-day life is pretty much the same as someone with two kids in a non-blended family. Grocery bills are bigger, time freedom is smaller, but the structure looks pretty much the same.
Many of the experiences I’ve shared here are experiences we all have as parents. What to do about money, sleep, grades and the like. I don’t think my advice would change all that much if I was a single dad with two kids (which I was once upon a time).
This realization got me to thinking – what really is different around here. What discussions and challenges are happening here that aren’t happening in a non-blended household. Here’s one – you have to sit down with the other parent and decide what your role is.
When I was 13, my separated mum met my stepdad. I only call him that here for reference. He’s my dad, straight up. For the next nine years of my life, he shuttled me around, gave me life lessons and – like the non-voting block of the UN – was given no rights to punish or control his non-biological kids. I’m certain it was maddening at times to watch a pair of teenagers be teenagers, people he had to shepherd without having any actual power.
When I had the chance to blend a family, I didn’t hesitate. We didn’t talk about it beforehand (mistake), but I charged right in and assumed the Role of Equal Partner and Parent. Ultimately, I believe this to be a good way to run a family. You have a voice, you have control and you’re not afraid to make decisions. (Where it gets tricky is with negotiating between your current spouse and your ex – fodder for another day).
Parent any other way and I think you’re in for a world of pain. There’s nothing worse than feeling like it’s your kids and somebody else’s kids. If you think that way or act that way, you’re going to get frustrated and angry. You’re going to have fights with your spouse. Your kids aren’t going to respect you, and that unlocks the door to a whole host of other problems. I see other families that operate like two families under one roof and it doesn’t seem to work out well.
So how do you do it? How do you assume that role when a three-year-old and a 10-year-old come into you life? Well, there’s that need for a conversation with your partner for one. You have to sit down and discuss your intentions and your role. You will never have equal decision-making power with your spouse, and you need to understand how that works and what it means. Set ground rules. Talk about scenarios – even uncomfortable ones. Talk about the other parents and the other family. What does that look like? What pitfalls are awaiting you? What rules do they have that’ll drive you nuts?
For one side of our family, this has been a relatively easy thing to do. I said I wanted to be an equal partner and since my wife’s ex isn’t in the picture all that much, it was a relatively easy fit. We should have discussed the rules of engagement a bit more – there have been times I haven’t been included in decisions or where mom thinks I’ve overstepped a boundary that we never created. I’ve made my share of mistakes here.
Things are different on the other side of my family. My biological son and daughter (two different relationships) are here part of the week, and they spend a significant amount of time with bio moms. We’ve never talked out what this looks like – either in my own home or in the other homes and it has rightly caused confusion, hurt feelings and stress.
I think I’m having a bit of a lightbulb moment here.
If you want a blended family to work as an actual family, you need patience and a clear understanding of how that should work. Sit down, talk it out and find ways to work as a cohesive unit at the blended home and beyond.